14 December 2015

A Warm December Day in NYC

December 13
On this spookily warm (mid 60's) December Sunday we spent much of the day enjoying New York's outdoor attractions. We had lunch in Brooklyn - a yummy veggie burger from a take out café. Then we popped into Vineapple for a caffeine fix. A local vibe, large tables, sofas, and youngsters hunched over MacBooks reminded us of Berkeley cafés. The coffee was decent too.

Time to join the throngs on the Brooklyn Bridge. As we strolled toward Manhattan, we were entertained by stunning views the whole time. First, the Lower Manhattan skyline appeared, dominated by the WTC Observatory and Gehry's Residential tower. Midtown's skyscrapers and the Manhattan Bridge then came into full view. Looking south of the Hudson River, to Staten and Ellis Islands, the Statue of Liberty commanded our attention. Fighting through the crowds was a bit challenging, but we enjoyed the walk anyway.

Over on the Manhattan side we took some moments to admire City Hall and the other beautiful buildings before taking the subway to 14th street.
We spent the afternoon on the High Line - as did everyone else in NYC. You guessed it! Another few hours of fighting through crowds for views ... and space to actually move forward!
In the late afternoon, when our legs were beginning to protest, we went down to street level in Chelsea. Daryl asked Siri to take us to the nearest place serving cocktails. We entered a tiny coffee shop, and when we asked about the bar, a doorman pushed the wall, and a door swung open. We found ourselves in a dimly lit, elegant 1920's style speakeasy - the Bathtub Gin. In this perfectly romantic spot a potent herb infused martini begged sampling. The place was empty at this time of day, but we could tell they were setting up for a full house later. An hour later we staggered to Blossom Restaurant, a few blocks up, where we were meeting up with an old pal.

We last saw Jamie about 15 years ago. So, over a tasty vegan meal, we did a whole lot of catching up. Daryl and Jamie, both mathematicians, have shared many memorable experiences together in their younger days, such as road trips to National Parks in the West. So this reunion was a bit like seeing a close family member after a long, long time. What a special evening!

09 December 2015


November 30 - December 3
It's December, so of course Boston was cold. Brrr! And rainy. But I bundled up and took the "T" – Boston's efficient subway system – from Somerville, where we spent 2 nights with colleagues, into the city. First stop: the visitor's center at Boston Common. Armed with a map and a plan, I was ready to brave the chill (mid 40's) and begin the Freedom Trail. But first, a detour into the lovely Public Garden with its famous duck pond (Make Way for Ducklings?). 

Public Garden
Despite the bleakness of an early winter landscape, I stood on the pretty bridge across the pond and thought how lovely everything looked.

I followed the very well laid out red brick trail through the downtown area to famous historic sites. This very walkable city makes it easy to appreciate its eclectic mix of architectural styles spanning almost 400 years. Brushing up on the Revolutionary War wasn't too painful either. I'd taught this stuff to 5th graders in past years, so it was a lot of fun to actually see places like Paul Revere's House. Around noon my feet were numb despite warm socks and boots, and luckily I'd arrived at Faneuil Hall, Boston's "Cradle of liberty", and first food hall. 

Among the market buildings was bustling Quincy Hall which was packed with food stalls. Hungry and cold, I was so pleased to be surrounded by all kinds of exotic and tempting things to eat in a toasty interior.

A tasty spanakopita gave me a boost of energy to continue on the Freedom Trail which now led me to the North End. On a cobbled road I saw the old wooden house in which Paul Revere lived. 
Paul Revere House

After scanning the many high end Italian restaurants in this area, I spotted a cosy café. In this perfect resting spot I sipped cappuccino and read a few chapters of a book set in London. Darn! The last stretch of the Freedom Trail led me to the Old North Church, famous for the place where lanterns were hung to warn Paul Revere that British troops had arrived. Cops Hill Burying Ground was next, then over to the Charles River. I'd had enough of the brisk air so I decided not to cross the Charlestown Bridge to Bunker Hill where the trail ended.
My iPhone showed I'd covered 6.6 miles even though the Freedom Trail was 2.5 miles in total. So, yes, I'd seen a fair amount of the city. Must return in warmer weather.

I absorbed through all my senses, the scholarliness of the area. You sense you're surrounded by brainiacs almost as soon as you get off the train platform and take a seat on the "T". Everyone is serious, either poring over the pages of some important work of literature, or engaged in academic discourse. Even the subway buskers are unnervingly talented. At the Harvard Square station a young woman crooned chansons in such a haunting voice, we wished the wait for the next train would be longer. 

In Cambridge, after a brief stroll through Harvard Square, Peets Café lured us away from the chill and rain. Robust coffee (and yes, that Peets! They are all over now, and I'm finding it a bit disconcerting. Too Starbucks like! But their coffee is bloody good) allowed us to watch the action from a warm spot. Later, we ambled across Harvard University, silently, aware of the sacred air and solemnity of our surroundings. We had lunch at Clover, a contemporary vegan restaurant, where menus are displayed on all the walls and waiters walk up to you to take your order. They make everything from scratch, even the pita bread, so a simple falafel platter was particularly tasty. So was the butternut squash soup.

From our Cambridge hotel beside the Charles River on our third day, it was an easy hike to MIT and Kendal Square. This area had quite an urban feel with its high tech companies and splashy shops.

A sensational meal at Oleana in Cambridge was definitely a high point. Run by a local celebrity chef, Ana Sortun, the cuisine is Turkish in orientation, with a huge emphasis on creatively prepared vegetables. We each ordered the Vegetable tasting menu ($40 pp), which turned into an 8 course meal of shared mezes and dessert. Each well crafted course with interesting flavor and texture combinations was pure culinary joy. Some examples: spinach falafel with beet yogurt in a thin pita roll; spicy fideos with chickpeas and chard; apple fatoush featuring beets and pomegranate. A hoppy, local IPA went really well with this divine meal. We'd intended to take a taxi back to the hotel because we were exhausted. But I was so totally stuffed that despite the crisp night air, I begged to walk back. The half hour trudge through Cambridge helped hugely, but we didn't make it to the hotel lounge where we'd hoped to enjoy the terrific views of Boston and the Charles River over cocktails. Next time ... 

Yup! We had a good time in Boston.

07 December 2015

Thanksgiving followed by Rachmaninoff

November 26 - 28
An unseasonably warm - early 60's - Thanksgiving day at IAS started off with a pleasant walk in the woods. The trees are completely bare now, but there's a different beauty.
Therese and Danny hosted dinner, which was an elaborate feast consisting of everyone's tasty contribution. Tasty appetizers of warm brie and pear, veg crudités, and crackers and dips kicked the feasting into action.
We were a group of 12 from various parts of the country, and unlikely to ever come together as a group again. The roast turkey was a hit, and so were the tofu steaks I had marinated in a syrupy balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard before roasting. The usual - roasted brussels sprouts, potatoes, cornbread, mash, cranberry sauce, etc.  - made it all feel authentic. Desserts of apple pie and pumpkin pie made from scratch by Sarah and Jeremy were too tasty to resist biggish slices. We met some new friends - Maya, Asha, and Joshua - who kept the conversation stimulating for hours. Definitely a Thanksgiving for the memory books.

Back in NYC on Saturday for the NY Phil. Their Rachmaninoff festival through the month of November gave us the opportunity to be immersed in the beautiful music of this composer, and also gave us an excuse to spend 3 consecutive full weekends in the city. This time we stayed at an Upper West side hotel, allowing us a chance to get to know this posh neighborhood a little better. We dined at Pasha, an elegant Turkish restaurant where we had a selection of delicious mezzes. Especially loved the smoked eggplant and white bean salad. A pomegranate martini took it up another notch.
We had dessert at the Lincoln Center Kitchen, another fine dining establishment. Here we met a friendly local with whom we talked about vegetarianism. I must say, this city takes veganism very seriously. It isn't hard at all to find really good, innovative, healthy vegan food in even the snootiest of places. Speaking of snooty, it's sometimes hard to tell you're not in Paris! So the local we met, a realtor, chatted about his life in this city that he adored, raving about the excellent entertainment and restaurants and stuff. As we were leaving he gave us his card and suggested getting together for dinner the following weekend. "Yes, we New Yorkers are friendly," was his parting words.
The evening's main event - Daniil Trifonov blasting out Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 3, the Everest of the repertoire played at top concert venues - had us in a state of stupefied ecstasy.  Sitting close to the stage we were totally pulled into the music. It gave us chills to watch the young genius so fluidly and passionately fingering the keys - all from memory. He got a standing ovation with loud cheers from audience. Russian dances followed, also fantastic, bringing the festival to a loud ending.
The beauty of Rach 3 lingered with us for days afterwards.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast at Maison Kayser. Cappuccinos and a basket of delicate pastries fueled us up for another day in the city. Daryl walked across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he spent all day. I took the subway downtown for a stroll along the High Line. A wintry crispness meant wearing hat, scarf, gloves, and my warmest coat. It was a lovely walk - away from traffic with greenery on either side of the path and constantly changing views of the city.

There's some seriously interesting contemporary architecture beside the High Line. Conveniently, Chelsea Market, a bustling food paradise was at the other end. Vegan sushi rolls from Beyond Sushi nourished me in a satisfyingly virtuous way. I spent the afternoon strolling through Chelsea, onto Bleeker Street, then SoHo. For dinner Daryl and I met up at Buddha Bodhi on Mott Street in Chinatown. The meal was okay, but I regretted not getting dumplings.
Then, across the street we saw a crowd in line to get into an ice cream parlor. Ice cream on a chilly winter evening? Well, we had to try it. And that's how we stumbled upon 10Below Ice-cream on Mott Street. This absurdly popular place has a unique style. They make the whole thing in front of you, starting with creme anglaise spread on a chilled metal plate. Fruit, nuts, and other stuff are chopped into the mixture as it hardens, then it's all rolled up and cut into for pieces. Instead of scoops you get rolls that look exotic, but taste fairly normal.

On that chilly note our weekend came to an end.

24 November 2015

"Old Times"; More Rachmaninoff; Lower Manhattan

November 21 and 22 - another full weekend in NYC. Lots of cuisine extraordinaire, a Broadway play, Bryant Park holiday market, the NY Philharmonic, and a day with dear friends.

First stop on Saturday was Eataly, a piece of Italy in New York. This food paradise is a combination of market stalls and restaurants intended to totally indulge and pamper people who love and can afford fine food. This month truffles are in season and a pop up restaurant here will be serving a selection of truffle dishes. At La Pizza we smashed a bubbling, crispy pizza that arrived out of a colorful giant beehive shaped wood fired oven, and tasted just like the pizzas we loved in Italy. A dry but fruity white wine paired beautifully with it.
The weather was crisp as we sauntered up Broadway to our hotel in Times Square. "Old Times", a Harold Pinter play on Broadway, provided excellent mid afternoon entertainment. Clive Owen was one of the 3 actors. A compelling performance rendered the play far more arresting than it actually was. (It could easily have been painful with less skilled acting!)
We spent the early evening strolling through the Christmas market in Bryant Park. Even though I have a strong dislike for the holidays, the atmosphere was quite lovely. We were so impressed at the numerous vegan food vendors that we decided to have dinner at the park. We ate al fresco like the locals, braving the late November chill! A tasty seitan burger, Belgian fries, and a mushroom chickpea soup warmed us up. From our table we had a lovely view of the newly unveiled 7 Bryant Park skyscraper lit up in French flag colors.
At the David Geffen Hall on Saturday evening we were 4 rows from the stage. Daniil Trifonov, the 24 year old Russian pianist, sent us to music heaven with his rendition of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No 4, a piece rarely performed. We were also enthralled by the NY Phil's performance of Rachmaninoff's other less popular work, Symphony No 1. Earlier in the week, when I was preparing for this concert, I found the piece pretty inaccessible. It took me a while to appreciate it, and then I just fell in love with this symphony. It was really special to witness a live performance by one of the world's best orchestras, and be so close to the stage!

Our hotel room overlooked Times Square with its gigantic flashing screens and ridiculous crowds. Luckily, soundproofing and curtaining allowed us a peaceful sleep.
Sunday morning started with breakfast at Bouchon Bakery, at an outside table in late November (yes, it was brisk!), and we enjoyed it. English couples at tables on either side of us livened up the conversation.
Late morning we headed downtown to see our friends Lee and Lucy who live near City Hall. From the balcony of their 23rd floor apartment we had a great view of Frank Gehry's building, one of the tallest residential towers in the world. Terrific views of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges from their living room window too.
What do locals do for lunch on Sunday? Dim Sum in Chinatown, an obvious choice for us, since it involved a 5 minute walk from their home. Two hours at a vegetarian restaurant on Mott Street gave us a chance to do a lot of catching up. Lee and Lucy are such energizing company and our conversations are always satisfyingly intellectual. The food was splendid too - dumplings filled with watercress, a plate of greens, a tofu stir-fry with lots of vegetables ...
Our afternoon stroll took us past all the noteworthy attractions of the Lower Manhattan area. Zuccotti Park, of 'Occupy Wall Street' fame; the Woolworth Building, and lobby for a glance at its mosaic ceiling. Trinity Church, Wall Street, Customs House then to Battery Park and the tip of Manhattan where the East and Hudson Rivers meet. Walking along the esplanade we had views of the Statue of Liberty. Then into the World Trade Center Winter Garden Atrium, awed at the plushness - palm trees, marble floors, an art installation.

Upstairs, we checked out the various fine food restaurants and gourmet market. Through the glass walls we had lovely views of the new buildings on the site of the old World Trade Center. A white tiled subterranean passage - like walking through a contemporary painting (reminded Daryl of an Escher painting) - brought us to the WTC Memorial buildings. The Observatory with its facade of triangles and reflective glass, dominated the skyline throughout our stroll.
Leaving the WTC area we entered TriBeCa, which had a quieter, neighborhood vibe. Lucy pointed out the cast iron buildings that the area is famous for. From Duane Street we continued past the Federal Courthouse and African Burial Ground before returning to their apartment.

What a joy to stroll through Lower Manhattan. To get a guided tour with wonderful friends is even more joyful. How lucky we are!

17 November 2015

11/13/15 Paris and NYC Weekend

We awoke to a dismal Saturday morning, after tragic bombings in Paris the night before. It was the first really chilly day of the season with the mercury hovering in the upper 40's.

I opened the blinds and looked out at the landscape of nearly bare trees. Not my favorite time of year!

A gloomy mood took possession, my thoughts on innocent victims of brutality all over the world.
Since we were heading into NYC for an evening classical concert at the David Geffen Hall, we looked into $25 rush tickets for the midday opera at the Met. We lucked out, snagging excellent seats for Tosca. Before the performance, the entire cast got on stage and sang La Marseillaise. We all stood up and using the lyrics provided, sang along. At the end there were cheers and shouts of "Vive la France." It was not a moment to be critical of the French National Anthem, or the policies of western leaders. It was a time to show solidarity, especially in New York, where a sense of vulnerability pervaded.
With Placido Domingo conducting, the opera was terrific. The famous arias from Tosca - "Viss d'arte" (I live for art, I live for love) by the soprano and E lucevan le stele (And the stars shone) by the tenor before his death were sung so beautifully. Heartbreaking. Appropriate for a day when a sombre mood prevailed in the city, and I'm sure around the world.

Dinner at Sapphire, a pretentious, overpriced Indian restaurant two blocks from Lincoln Center, was a disappointment with its bland fare. We were in the mood for spicy, robust flavors, which was why we chose an Indian restaurant!

The NY Philharmonic on the other hand, was spellbinding. Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto no. 2 and Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini warmed the depths of our souls.
We had front row seats, with a fantastic view of the passionate Russian pianist, 24 year old Daniil Trifonov.

We splurged on a room in a terrific midtown hotel near Rockefeller Center, to avoid a late night train ride back to Princeton. After a restful night's sleep, we marched over to Bouchon Bakery just across the street from us. It was a lovely fall day, 10 degrees warmer than the day before.
This Thomas Keller establishment must serve the best breakfast pastries in town. It goes without saying that the almond croissant and cranberry scone we had were exquisite. Through the window we watched people standing outside the NBC studios watching a live recording of The Today Show.
After a lazy morning around the Rockefeller Center we had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. The place was packed and service was painfully slow. But we did enjoy very much the caramelized brussels sprouts soup and salad of farro, roasted squash, pecans, and other veggies.

We took a long stroll, first along Broadway, where a Christmas market was being set up. Then into Chelsea with its numerous fancy food places, and ended up in Greenwich Village. An attractive café lured us in for a coffee and almond tart. It was great to rest our weary feet and escape the city's bustle. Later, a wander around the haunts of the Beatniks, then Christopher and Bleeker Streets, ending in Washington Square gave us a good feel of this interesting neighborhood. So different to Midtown.

With the sun low in the sky we were ready to head to Penn Station for our train to peaceful Princeton.

10 November 2015

Philly Fun

November 9
Wandering the very walkable streets of downtown Philadelphia on a remarkably mild November day, fall foliage lingering amongst historic buildings, and multi-ethnic locals smiling with evident pride, I thought this isn't just a city with a drama filled past, but a city with soul. Few American cities evoke that sentiment. It has a metro system, it's walkable, the Old City has charm, buildings from the 18th century abound, there are cobbled roads, pretty parks, a gracious visitor's center with clean public restrooms, non chain cafés serving strong java and high quality baked goods, and this is a foodie city.
Liberty Bell - used to call the Pennsylvania Assembly to meetings; adopted by abolitionists, suffragists, and oppressed groups as their symbol. The Liberty Bell Center was built especially to give this icon a permanent home from where it could be viewed by the public.

Independence Hall - dating back to the 18th century. This is where the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. It's also where the 1st and 2nd Continental Congress met to draw up the Constitution.

Roasted Gold Beets with Smoked Tofu and Avocado
 The upscale Vedge Restaurant, with their unique take on gourmet vegan cuisine, definitely showcased Philly's impressive culinary scene. We were so exhausted after all that walking, and so appreciated the comfortable sofa seat and inviting ambience. We sat back, enjoyed a vodka cocktail, and perused the delightful menu. There's a lot to be said for classy, unrushed service, while you savor delicate flavors and textures served with artistic flare.
City Hall - couldn't get over that stunning faćade - beautiful sculpture and columns
Caught only a glimpse as we rushed past this largest municipal building in the country. Night had fallen and time to head back to Princeton.

08 November 2015

Turandot, too much dessert, and Joshua Bell

November 6 and 7
It's been an incredible weekend! Don't even know where to begin. Let's start with the highlight: Turandot, a scintillating Franco Zeffirelli production at the Met in NYC on Saturday. Wow!
Sumptuous staging; resplendent costumes; and Puccini's accessible music in the hands of talented singers and a fantastic orchestra - of course we were dazzled. And yes, it was an excellent Nessan Dorma! Resounding audience applause for it!

The next highlight would have to be our 3 Michelin star restaurant experience at Per Se, arguably New York's best and most famous restaurant. Their focus on fine vegetarian cuisine aroused our interest. When we found out that we could be seated in their salon section without a reservation and order a la carte we thought, heck, let's check it out. We'd order modestly and if afterwards we were still hungry we'd grab a slice of pizza on the way to Penn Station. So we arrived promptly at 5:30 when doors opened. First, they handed Daryl a black jacket to wear. Chuckle! Chuckle! Then we got seated on an elegant sofa at the best salon table - by a window with fantastic views of Columbus Circle, Central Park, and the lights of midtown Manhattan. Yes, it was pretentious, most notably in the names and descriptions of their fastidiously inventive dishes. But, hey, when you've grown up in poverty in a racist country, there's something very gratifying about being fussed over by overly polite WASPy looking tuxedoed waiters focussed on making you feel indulged. There was a mood present - one of relaxation, and "you are here to have a truly memorable time". They served us two amuse bouches - first, a pastry encased ball of melted gruyere, then a little while later a cornetto filled with beets and creme fraiche. Yum! The arrival of warm, crusty breads arranged in a basket assured us we would not go hungry!
MASCARPONE ENRICHED BUTTERNUT SQUASH "AGNOLOTTI" Chestnut "Confit," Crispy Sage and Black Truffle Emulsion

Presentation of their industriously crafted cuisine is all important. Every dish that landed on our table was a work of art. A clear effort to engage all senses was apparent - lots of textures, colors, fragrances - and yes, it was all magnificent. But most unforgettable was dessert. When Daryl decided to go for the full dessert deal, it meant an elaborate event. One involving several (we lost count) courses of "I must have died and gone to heaven". Each distinct dessert was served on what appeared to be contemporary art - pyramidal layers of plates, then shapely bowls, then flat plates of various sizes and shapes. You just had to take the time to admire every aspect before demolishing the dish. Even though I'd ordered a solitary dessert item - an exquisite chocolate mousse - they brought us both silverware for each of Daryl's dessert courses, forcing me to join him in his decadence. This attitude of "we will accommodate whatever works for you" is beyond pretension! When we thought it was all over, and felt ready for it to be over, a selection of dainties - macaroons, truffles, nougat and toffee appeared. Then a waiter arrived with a big box of house made truffles and described each one to us. We then got to choose whatever and however many we wanted. Overkill? Definitely! Daryl beamed the whole time. Dessert is a religion for him, and this was his Mount Olympus. Thankfully we live on the West Coast!

Joshua Bell performs music from the documentary Einstein's Light at IAS. Marija Stroke is the pianist.

Imagine having the celebrated violinist Joshua Bell come to you to perform? That's exactly what happened on Friday at IAS. In an event that culminated a two day General Relativity at 100 conference, Joshua Bell performed 5 pieces of exquisite music. He was accompanied by the pianist, Marija Stroke, who shared with the audience that she was conceived on the night her father had returned from a meeting with Einstein! The composer of the pieces, Nickolas Barris, was also present and later, in a discussion on the intersection of music and science, he explained how he used Mozart and Bach in the compositions. These pieces were composed for the documentary Einstein's Light, created for this conference, and was later screened for us. In the movie we learned more about Einstein's discoveries and his use of imagination. Music is woven into the story to show an interdependent relationship between the arts and sciences.
The 2 day conference to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's general theory of relativity created a lot of excitement here on Thursday and Friday. To kick things off there was a live presentation called LIGHT FALLS on Wednesday night. It was presented by the physicist Brian Greene at Princeton University. We were thrilled to be able to attend this very entertaining work which combined acting, animation, narration, and projection techniques to trace Einstein's journey toward his greatest contribution to our knowledge of the universe.
And finally, I should mention that the weather all week was glorious. We started each day with a walk in the woods. The paths are carpeted with leaves and the trees are almost bare. 

01 November 2015

Halloween in NYC

Another Saturday morning, another magnificent opera at the Met. This time we braced ourselves for Wagner's Tannhäuser. The serious stuff. Everything on a grandiose scale. We prepared well for this opera, ready to enter the life of the tormented title character as he makes his choice between the lustful pleasures of Venusberg and chaste love of the real world. We loved every moment, from the first delightful notes of the famous "hymn theme" overture, to the final act's Rome Narrative and Venus Song arias. All the singers displayed impressive voice range and richness. The orchestra, led by the legendary James Levine, sounded sublime throughout the three and a half hour performance. 
The outstanding cast of Tannhäuser take their final bows. Johan Botha, the South African born tenor in the title role, sang with fluidity the wide range of notes in the demanding arias of this opera.

It was Halloween. Lincoln Plaza was crowded with costumed kids and their families when we arrived at midday. After the opera, the plaza was quiet again. We strolled into Central Park to enjoy the mild autumn late afternoon. A newly set up skatepark framed by skyscrapers and trees yielding to fall hues, drew our attention briefly, until we noticed the sponsor. Yuck! We turned around and continued our stroll through the park.

We watched daylight fade over a vodka cocktail called the Santa Barbara and IPA beer from a top floor bar in Columbus Circle. Through the glass walls in the Times Warner Building we enjoyed views of Central Park and the action around the circular fountain in the square down below. The bar atmosphere felt classy, very Manhattan-like. Munchies of peanuts, pretzels, and wasabi peas were a nice touch.
For dinner we tried out the famous Neapolitan pizzas at Don Antonio in midtown. Wood fired, with a smoked cheese and zucchini topping, I was won over. Daryl's soggy crust was a little disappointing, but we realized it was due to a generous topping of vegetables. We could hear Italian spoken, and we spotted the clay oven, so we figured it was all authentic. Our first pizza in Pisa, though, will always be our gold standard.

Returning to IAS we realized we are currently living in a sort of Venusberg. One where academic lust is boundless!

26 October 2015

Ithaca and Cornell University

October 22 - 25
Daryl was chuffed to be invited to give a colloquium at the prestigious Cornell University. A 4 hour drive from Princeton through wooded landscape took us into Pennsylvania – allowing glimpses of the Appalachians – before entering upstate New York. Abundant fall foliage, despite past peak in most places, made the drive quite picturesque.

While a packed room of Ivy League mathematicians gave Daryl their full attention, I meandered through the attractive campus. The ivy covered buildings certainly exude serious scholarliness.  How much of our world and our lives have been shaped by the minds that graced these lecture rooms?

In the middle of campus is Beebe Dam. A quick trek from Malott Hall (the math building) got me in the midst of nature. On this very mild Thursday afternoon I followed a trail along the lake, my spirits soaring from all the beauty around me. The heavily forested area around the lake was at peak fall colors. A waterfall gushed down a steep gorge. From a pedestrian bridge I gazed at the vertical gorge walls and False Creek. I kept gasping at the vibrant fall foliage colors.

Almost as soon as you arrive in this town you nod your head in agreement with their tagline  "Ithaca is Gorges". This part of upstate New York – the Finger Lakes – owes its geography to glaciers that receded after the last ice age. Further erosion resulted in deep gorges and waterfalls which are everywhere. I spent most of Friday on hiking trails along stunning gorges. Luckily it was another pleasantly mild day – just perfect to be outdoors. The scenic Cascadilla Trail from downtown all the way up to Cornell University takes you past nine waterfalls. I smiled all the way up as I made my way to campus to hook up with Daryl, Kelly, and Jason. We went into the Johnson Museum of Art to see Kurt Vonnegut drawings and paintings on exhibition. From the top floor of this very contemporary designed building we enjoyed great views of Lake Cayuga.

After decades of using the Moosewood cookbooks, I finally got to experience their restaurant. We had 3 meals here in 3 days. The food had a familiar, home cooked taste to it. Duh! My favorite was the spinach lasagna. We've made their lasagna from the original cookbook numerous times. The tomato sauce is so flavorful and is definitely the key to its perennial success. The limited menu at this restaurant surprised me. Good, wholesome, hearty, and healthy are the best adjectives I can come up with. And old-fashioned. You do get the impression that you're in a 1970's time warp.

Lake Cayuga - the longest of the Finger Lakes
These lakes were formed from receding glaciers. Further erosion carved out the deep gorges. Ithaca lies at the southern tip of this lake.

Taughannock Falls, though skinny, are taller than Niagara Falls. The weather turned brisk on Saturday when Kelly and Jason took us on a drive. Clad in a thick woolen hat and chunky sweater from Kelly, plus my down coat and fleece gloves, I braved the chill and did the 3/4 mile hike to the falls. Definitely worth it.

Back in town we marched over to Ithaca Falls. These wide falls – 175 ft in width – were the most powerful of all the waterfalls I'd seen in Ithaca. It's amazing that this huge, cascading beauty plunging into a big pool is minutes away from downtown.

We stayed with Jason and Kelly in their 100 year old house at the edge of downtown Ithaca. Warm friends sharing with us their house full of character – creaking oak staircases, paneled ceilings, bay windows – made our time here very enjoyable. Saturday evening we had dinner at the home of Tim and Tara. Tim's very polished culinary skills were evident in a stuffed portobello mushroom dish - a recipe from Plenty, an Ottolenghi cookbook. Good conversation, some opinion differences, lots of Malbec, delicious apple pie from Ithaca Bakery, and a lot of laughter. A fine way to end a visit.

19 October 2015

Some High Points of the Past Week

October 12 - 18
The Moth Story Slam

Had a blast with Michelle, Therese, and Sada at the Moth Story Slam. It all happened at an old fashioned bookstore - Housing Works Bookstore - in SoHo, New York. Michelle had the crazy idea to drive into Manhattan from Princeton, but thankfully it all worked out. Ten talented and engaging speakers each related a 5 minute story on the theme "I was my own worst enemy". An enthusiastic audience dished up loads of atmosphere.
Later, around 9:30, a jazz quartet's uplifting music lured us into Antique Garage, a lovely Turkish Restaurant with vintage décor. We dined on tasty mezzes, which included a spicy muhamarra dip, and haloumi wraps. There was no front wall, giving the interior a delightful terrace like feel on this warm October evening. With such perfect ambience it was hard not to fall in love with NYC!
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of General Relativity, IAS director, the suave Robbert Dijkgraaf, gave a talk about Einstein's work and how his equations continue to help us understand the universe. He spoke about the principles that connect the physics of motion and mass to the geometry of space and time. Most of the people in the audience, including Daryl, found the talk riveting. Not me ... but I did a good job of faking it.
After the talk we indulged in the monthly buffet dinner at the IAS Restaurant. After stuffing ourselves with fresh salads, roasted portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and pumpkin ravioli, we studied the dessert table. Willpower abandoned us - we sampled it all - pecan pie, pumpkin cheesecake, chocolate mouse, apple crisp, and chocolate pots de créme. Needless to say, we are still recovering!
Lake Carnegie

Took full advantage of the pleasant weather all week, going on morning walks in the woods and cycling along the Delaware Raritan Canal and Lake Carnegie. The ground is now carpeted with leaves and the trees are beginning to don fall colors. It's all so beautiful.We see deer frequently. Found out that to prevent the deer population from exploding five hunters are given special permission in the fall to hunt them using a bow and arrows!

Spent all Saturday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. IAS arranged for a coach to drop us off at the entrance right at opening time. How does one navigate through the overwhelming collection at this art paradise? Looking at the map I found it impossible to limit myself to just a few highlights. This Tiffany piece was created entirely from colored glass. Isn't that amazing? I loved the Egyptian antiquities and the American landscapes and the Dutch Old Masters. Of course I teared up at the many Van Gogh pieces displayed. The Islamic art, especially from Turkey, was breathtaking. You could spend months in this museum and still take in only a fraction of its collection. It begs to be the setting of a story, an idea seized on by E.L. Konigsburg. The fountain in the American wing made me think of Claudia bathing in it at night in the company of beautiful sculpture.

It's been a chilly weekend, a reminder that summer is definitely over. Yesterday we needed gloves, hat, and warm coat on our walk into Princeton town. We purchased 4 books for $4, at the library's annual book sale. Then, over tea and hazelnut chocolate cake at Café Vienna, we did some reading. Walking back through Princeton University we nipped into the Art Museum. In the half hour we had before closing we took a look at the Cézanne still lifes on special exhibit. This museum, on a very human scale, has a pretty decent collection of art through the centuries. We'll be back for a few more visits.

12 October 2015

The Week at IAS (Oct 5 - 11)

IAS is all about an optimum environment for thinking and creating, so we spend a lot of time doing exactly that. While Daryl works in his office in Fuld Hall, I work at a desk in the Humanities Building library. A view of the pond and trees (now in fall foliage) at the edge of the Institute woods provide a pretty cool setting for me.

It's been a while since I worked on an actual book, and I'm pleased that the haphazard writing I'd been doing in the last six years is shaping up into a manuscript. Still a long way to go, but it's happening ...
Opportunities for other forms of enjoyment abound, and here's what I did last week when I wasn't at my desk:
  • Monday morning conversations hosted by Helen Goddard, wife of the previous director of IAS, at their lovely home on Maxwell Lane. What a splendid house with an open interior, and big windows providing natural light and views of their attractive garden areas. We were an international group of about 15 female "partners" of IAS members. Helen's idea is to provide a safe forum for non-English speakers to practice the language with native speakers. We partnered up – I with a gorgeous lady from Cameroon – and exchanged information and personal experiences. A woman in her 90's - the widow of a famous mathematician who'd been a permanent faculty member at IAS - remarked that China is better than Japan, when a Chinese lady shared something about her home. We roared with laughter. Helen said to her, "It isn't polite to say that especially because we have two women from Japan here." She looked puzzled. "But why not? My husband and I spent time in Japan and China and China was so much more interesting." The mood was lighthearted all morning. At 11:00, Helen who is English, served "elevenses" in her very large kitchen. Over tea/coffee and homemade raisin cake we mingled informally.

  •  Marc Maron gave a public lecture at Princeton University on Tuesday evening which I went to. A very friendly New Jersey native sitting next to me raved about WTF, the speaker's biweekly podcasts. "I love how he does his interviews. I feel I can relate to him. He's honest and quick to admit his failures." I'd only ever heard the podcast of the Obama interview - the one in which Obama created waves when he used the "n" word. Marc Maron has great stage presence and is full of humor, so I enjoyed the talk a lot. 

  • One noteworthy thing about Wednesday was my productive morning of writing. Another was that the weather was glorious - a perfect autumn day. The air was still, the sky was blue, and the temperature blissful. I went for a cycle ride along the D and R canal. Even on a week day afternoon the towpath was full of walkers and joggers.

  • On Thursday evening I went with my friend Christine – an art historian – to the McCarter Theatre to see "Baby Doll", a play based on a movie script by Tennessee Williams. Set in the Mississippi delta in the 1950's, it deals with the multilayered struggles of a cotton gin owner and his very young and immature wife. It was a superb production, with engaging actors pulling you into their individual worlds. 
  • The timing of a heavy thunderstorm on Friday couldn't have been worse. It struck at precisely the start of a welcome barbecue party given by an organization called "The Friends of IAS". Tables and chairs were set up inside a large tent, and while lighting flashed continuously and rain bucketed down, we filled up our plates with the fine spread of food prepared for us. Barbecued meats; interesting salads like orzo with toasted pumpkin seeds and organic greens with pecans; chips and a selection of salsas and guacamole; craft beer, including IPAs; a selection of fruit pies and ice-creams for dessert. The party literally went on - a live band played bluegrass type music, the kids made crafts, a balloon man made funny balloon shapes, and "The Friends" displayed flyers of services they offer to bring IAS members into the Princeton community.
On Saturday we were back in NYC for more opera at the Met. This time we saw Otello, performed by a mainly Eastern European cast of exceptional singers. Otello's skin was not darkened and in the titles the phrases "thick lipped" and "my black skin" were changed. Not sure how I feel about this, but grateful for the sensitivity. After the opera we checked out the gorgeous crafts at a craft show in Lincoln Plaza. I was quite taken by the quality and uniqueness of everything – the paintings, sculpture (glass), formal clothing, and jewelry. 
It was late afternoon and a perfect fall day. We strolled over to Columbus Circle, and in the shopping mall checked out Bouchon Bakery and Per Se – a 3 Michelin starred Thomas Keller restaurant.  We debated the ethics of a $310 per person  9 course vegetarian meal. Another life time maybe ... So we continued our walk, ending at Blossom Restaurant in Chelsea where we had a delicious vegan meal within our budget.